Introduction

Welcome back to another edition of the AnandTech Buyer's Guides. The one constant in life is change, and what was once an ultrafast component invariably will be surpassed by midrange and eventually budget parts in terms of raw performance. Sometimes this progression will occur quickly, and other times it may take a couple years, but in the world of computers we will all inevitably need to upgrade. For the past several years many people have been quite happy with their computer's performance; for typical applications (not games, video encoding, 3D rendering, or other professional applications) even moderate Pentium 4 or Athlon XP systems continue to run quite well. The pending launch of Windows Vista may finally change all that, with performance requirements that appear to be quite a bit higher than Windows XP - assuming of course that you want to make the switch to the new operating system.

Most people are still pretty happy with Windows XP performance and features, and particularly in the business world we don't expect a rapid transition to take place. Most are taking a "wait and see" approach to Vista, or perhaps waiting for the expected Service Pack 1 before making the transition. If you like being an early adopter, by all means feel free to take the plunge at the end of this month when Windows Vista launches. We're not ready to recommend such an approach, however, so our Buyer's Guides will continue to stick with XP for now.

It is worth noting that most new systems (and OS purchases) will come with the option to upgrade to Vista for free (or for a marginal fee), but you need to make sure that you get the correct version of Windows XP depending on which version of Windows Vista you want to run. Basically, at this point we do not recommend that anyone purchase Windows XP Home, as you are only allowed to upgrade to Windows Vista Home Basic. The big problem with Vista Home Basic is that it does not include the new Aero Glass interface, arguably one of the main reasons many people would be interested in upgrading to Vista in the first place. We recommend getting Windows XP Media Center Edition 2005 or XP Professional instead, as both of those can be upgraded to Vista Home Premium, and the latter can be upgraded to Windows Vista Business.

There's also the 64-bit question that needs to be tackled, as all versions of Windows XP and Vista are now available in either 32-bit or 64-bit packages. While we would love to say that we've seen a benefit to running 64-bit operating systems, the reality is that there are very few applications that actually perform better in 64-bit mode right now, and there are still plenty of driver issues and other incompatibilities that people run into. If you run applications that use a lot of memory and you plan on installing more than 2GB of RAM into your system, a 64-bit OS might be the right way to go, but if you just want the operating system to get out of your way and let you get to work, we recommend sticking with a 32-bit OS (preferably XP) for now. That recommendation may change in the future, but discretion and patience seem to be the better course of action.

With that information out of the way, our Midrange Buyer's Guide continues to cover the most popular market segment, and the available budget leaves a lot of room for flexibility. Our last midrange guide was in September 2006, making it almost 4 months old. You might think at first that a lot of things would have changed in four months, but other than a few price fluctuations our basic recommendations are very similar. Rather than simply rehash what we have already stated in previous guides, we're going to use this midrange guide to tackle several different configuration options, with prices ranging from $1250 up to over $2000. The top of that price range is more of a high-end computer, but we don't necessarily recommend that you purchase every single component from our upgraded configuration. Rather, consider it a list of the various upgrades that you can make, and choose those which make the most sense depending on your intended use. We will also cover options you might want to consider for gaming and overclocking centric configurations, and in the end we will have several different systems from which you can choose.

Basic Midrange Configurations
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  • vailr - Friday, January 19, 2007 - link

    Intel doesn't offer any compelling single core solutions right now.
    Consider the socket 775 Celeron D 356. When compared with an older Northwood P4 CPU of similar speed [~3.3 GHz at stock speed], it would seem to be a very good price/performance ratio upgrade. Tiger Direct has it for $50, after a $20 MIR. Combine with a VIA chip based motherboard, such as the ASRock Dual-VSTA or ECS P4M800 (or similar VIA board), which can also still re-use older DDR memory sticks and AGP video cards. Might even make an interesting basis for an Anandtech review, showing the "best bang for buck" upgrades, for a 2 or 3 year old system.
    Some Celeron D 356 owners have also had excellent overclocking results (past 4 GHz), depending on the motherboard used.
    Reply
  • mino - Saturday, January 20, 2007 - link

    When compared with an older Northwood P4 CPU
    Well, the problem is A64 3200+ goes for $60.
    $5 cheaper than 356...
    Reply
  • LoneWolf15 - Friday, January 19, 2007 - link

    quote:

    The GTS isn't a whole lot faster than AMD's X1950 XTX, and there are even a few games where it's slightly slower,

    At which resolutions? At 1920x1200, I think the 8800GTS would be the clear winner.

    Also, I'd be interested to know how much difference there is between the Creative X-Fi ExtremeGamer, and the similarly priced (well, compared to your review, online I've seen it retailing slightly higher) X-Fi ExtremeAudio. The ExtremeAudio has the nicer gold-plated jacks; the ExtremeGamer actually is the first Creative card that I've seen that allows a user to plug in standard Intel-spec front panel audio. The card layouts are so different that I'm sure there has to be more differences than that; I'd like to know what those are.
    Reply
  • uofahoefx - Friday, January 19, 2007 - link

    If you are comparing price/performance I think the X2 4200+ would have been a better starting point. The performance difference between the 3800+ and E6300 is too significant to compare these systems. Reply
  • KorruptioN - Friday, January 19, 2007 - link

    Whether or not the Rosewill 600W is really that much better than the Fotron Source 450W is debatable

    It really is. I did some research as to who really was the OEM for this particular 600W Rosewill, and it turns out that the OEM is Solytech (the UL label on the PSU says E223918, Googling that brings me to http://www.jonnyguru.com/SMPS_UL.htm">this list, which then tells me Solytech). These guys are the new image for Deer electronics. If you've been around the hardware world for a while, you might know that Deer PSUs a few years back were notorious for being fire hazards, nothing better than doorstops. I still wouldn't trust them today. I think it was a poor choice for your guide.

    For $71, you can get a much better PSU. Antec's http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.asp?Item=N82...">TP3-430 is a good choice, and you'd be saving money. It's a Seasonic build, so you can be assured of high-efficiency, low-noise, and good power.
    Reply
  • Operandi - Friday, January 19, 2007 - link

    Your right Rosewill sucks. This guide would have been better served having recommended the entry level 450 watt Forton across the board since nothing here would be able to break 300 watts DC let alone 600 (assuming the Rosewill could even reach that point which itself is doubtful).

    About the Antec TP3; it is built buy Seasonic but it has also had corners cut to reach that price point -- it is not equal to Seasonic's own units. If you want Seasonic build quality get a Seasonic (or PCP&C Silencer or Crucial) if you want the best PSU to $$$ ratio it has to be this 400 watt http://www.ewiz.com/detail.php?name=PS-E5140GH">Enhance.
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Friday, January 19, 2007 - link

    Despite the hard stance a lot of "informed enthusiasts" take on Rosewill, actual testing of a 500W unit by http://www.jonnyguru.com/review_details.php?id=48">JohnnyGuru.com turned in very favorable results. This is the same site that disliked the high ripple on the OCZ GameXStream 700W, FWIW (but still gave it a good review). I continue to think people are judging Rosewill without having actually tested/used any of their products. Are their QC standards as high as SeaSonic or some of the other top brands? Probably not, but outside of perhaps higher than normal DOA parts (which you just send back and get a new, working unit), they work very well in our experience. Reply
  • yyrkoon - Sunday, January 21, 2007 - link

    Now, it is not the one being talked about here, but just yesterday, another IT friend of mine, got in his new thermaltake water cooled system case, and used a 350W Rosewill PSU to power up the water cooling portion (thankfully for him, his system board hadn't arrived yet), and while testing the cooling system a loud *pop* came from the the PSU, followed by a small 'billow' of smoke( he thinks he probably blew the top of a capacitor off, but didn't bother to look). The PSU continued to work for another 15 minutes according to him, but who knows what would have happened if this was powering a full system.

    Yeah, a 350W PSU, would not be powering an i680 system board, with a E6600, and dual 8800GTX's (which will be his finished system), but this speaks a lot for the manufacturer IMHO. Also, I've rarely seen a PSU take out more than just itself when dying, but it does happen. In my buddies case here, he intends on this system lasting him another 4-5 years, so, having an in-expencive PSU in the mix is not an option. One last thing, JonnyGuru mentions himself, that even while the Rosewill PSU in question does perform admirably, the choice of capacitors use in it, is questionable. Anyone who has been building systems for a awhile must realize that when components die in a computer system, there is a very good chance, it is because of the caps used on one component, or another, be it system board, or PSU. I myself am a big fan of ABIT, and even have had a system board from them die after 5-6 years, because of leaking / bad caps . . .
    Reply
  • mostlyprudent - Saturday, January 20, 2007 - link

    I have been personally very disappointed with my Rosewill PSU. I bought a 400W version about a year ago to replace the generic 350W that came with the case I used for the general family PC. The Rosewill is louder and less stable. I had recently bought an Fortron Source 380W for my office PC for a few $ more than the Rosewill and have been extremely pleased.

    Just thought I'd share my personal experience for what it is worth.
    Reply
  • yyrkoon - Friday, January 19, 2007 - link

    quote:

    Despite the hard stance a lot of "informed enthusiasts" take on Rosewill . . .


    DO you seriously think any reseller / system integrator would recommend such a PSU ? I wouldn't. Anyone can make sly connotations one way, or another, but the simple fact is, we here have a reputation to uphold when building systems for 2nd parties, and would NEVER recommend such a PSU. Now if a customers wishes to shave costs by buying 'lesser' components, we just make sure they're informed of the possibilities, and leave it at that. It is not like every single 'cheap' PSU is garbage, most work fine, it is the ones you don't know about that creep up and bite you in the ass.

    Another way to look at it is, you just dropped $1000 on a system, that will hopefully last at least a couple of years, whats another $100-$200 on a good, proven PSU? Perhaps if your computer means very little to *you* there is no harm done, when and if if fails, but I personally like the assurance that whatever I buy will be the best for the amount of money I've spent, and simply put, none of those parts would be made by Rosewill. An external USB HDD case ? sure, ok, fine, but never a PSU.
    Reply

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